Two heads are smarter than one! An interview with SNV's young energy expert duo

Woman holding cup

Two young renewable energy experts describe their motivation for joining SNV. The Young Expert Programme (YEP) for Energy enables them to contribute to increasing access to sustainable energy in Kenya. Read their story below.

This interview was first published in YEP Effect #6 a publication which was created during the early stages of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Two heads are smarter than one, the saying goes, and Young Expert Duo working partnerships are a case in point. Saada Mohamed Sala and Karlijn Groen are the first-ever YEP Energy duo. They work together on Energizing Development (EnDev) projects in the Energy Department of not-for-profit international development organisation SNV. Their work focusses on supporting market developments for cleaner cookstoves and solar powered solutions for households and small businesses in Kenya.

What would you say are the biggest advantages of working together as a YEP Duo?

Karlijn: “There are various benefits for me, first it is nice that I already knew Saada due to the YEP Preparatory Training which we had before arriving in Kenya. It’s great to have a familiar face when everything is new.”

Saada: “Karlijn and I work on similar projects in the same office space. This gives us more opportunities to share not only work experiences but also our YEP experiences. This builds personal friendship, and we always look to each other for moral support.”

Karlijn: “In terms of work it’s also helpful. Saada has been working on the projects for a while now. She also knows a lot about the context from her personal experience growing up in a remote location in Kenya.”

Tell us a little more about your individual areas of expertise?

Saada: “My expertise lies in the execution of energy interventions using a market-based approach. This basically means setting up sustainable and profitable business models and enterprises for stand-alone solar systems and improved clean cooking solutions. The main users are families, small and medium enterprises and social institutions.”

Karlijn: “We have diverse but complementary expertise. I have experience in development sector from the financial access perspective having worked for FMO (Dutch Development Bank), mostly assessing the impacts of investments on environment & social factors and climate finance. Saada has expertise inimplementing access projects, having worked with SNV Kenya.”

What have been the highlights of your YEP Duo experience so far?

Karlijn: “The preparation training was very nice to do together as we knew we’d be working together a lot. In addition, we had plans here in Nairobi to do meet ups, field trips for work, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic this will be postponed. “

Saada: “But especially in these uncertain times it is very nice to be able to reach out to each other.”

What is YEP Energy?

Saada: “YEP Energy was introduced in 2020. Energy completes the nexus of agrofood, water and energy. The fields are interlinked, and close collaboration is needed to address global challenges such as climate change, food security, energy and poverty. YEP Energy contributes to three clear renewable energy themes: decentral access to affordable energy services for households, including clean cooking solutions; innovation (technology, finance and business) and productive use of renewable energy for SMEs, farmers & social institutions.”

Karlijn: “Saada and I both work in the Energy Department at SNV Kenya, on EnDev projects. These contribute to Kenya’s SE4All initiative whose goal is to achieve 100% universal access to modern energy services by 2030 for cooking and electricity. One of our key activities in the SE4All projects is supporting businesses that supply renewable energy solutions and clean cook stoves, to enter new ‘underserved’ markets and sell their products to households and firms which currently have limited access to energy and clean cooking.”

Your work seems to contribute to a number of SDGs: which ones?

Karlijn: “Clean cookstoves reduce indoor air pollution and deforestation, positively contributing to SDG 13 - climate action and SDG 3 - good health and well-being. In addition, access to renewable energy obviously contributes to SDG 7 - affordable and clean energy and SDG 13 -climate action as our projects provide people and businesses with sustainable alternatives to diesel mini grids or generators. Access to energy has a positive impact on other SDG’s such as 4 - quality education as lighting allows for studying at night, and number 8 - decent work and economic growth. This combined helps drive a poverty alleviation agenda: SDG 1.”

Karlijn on the left and Saada on the right

Karlijn on the left and Saada on the right

Enjoying a lunch with fellow young experts

Enjoying a lunch with fellow young experts

Do you have any tips and tricks for other (aspiring) Young Experts?

Saada: “YEP is an excellent opportunity for enriching your personal development, expanding knowledge and social networks from interactions with different local and international experts. It’s a real stepping stone towards personal and professional growth – ideal for all young professionals. I would say: believe in yourself, be open minded and grab this golden opportunity!”

Karlijn: “I agree -- Just do it! It’s a great opportunity to get experience on the ground, to deepen your knowledge and to work in a different culture while gaining a network, high quality trainings and coaching* from YEP!”

Anything else you would like to add?

Saada: “I’m looking forward to interact more with other Young Experts through Master classes, Basecamp, WhatsApp groups, InterVision weekends and over coffee and diners! Finally, we would both like to give a shout out to all Young Experts for the great work they’re doing out there, and please take care and be safe amid this Covid-19 pandemic!”